Prolonged exposure to hazardous noise can have harmful effects on worker health. Monitor the hearing health status of the noise-exposed workers to identify changes then take action to prevent further damage.
An audiometric testing programme checks the hearing thresholds of workers and tracks them over time. The objective is to detect changes or shifts in hearing that may signal the beginning stages of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Identifying the signs and symptoms early enough, allows employers to intervene before the symptoms get worse. Therefore, part of the audiometric testing program is to ensure that effective follow-up actions are taken.
Audiometric monitoring programmes depend on checking hearing thresholds in a consistent, standardized manner, using trained and competent personnel. The test room should be quiet enough to minimize distractions for valid thresholds to be obtained. A baseline hearing check (audiogram) done before the worker’s first exposure to hazardous noise is then compared to future, routine hearing checks. Typically done annually, these results help to identify problems, such as hearing threshold shifts.
Audiometric test programmes can be offered in a variety of ways, including in-house testing, mobile service providers, or at a health clinic. They may be performed by an audiologist or physician, but are most commonly done by audiometric technicians or occupational health nurses with specialty training. Any problem audiograms must be reviewed by an audiologist or physician to help determine follow-up actions. For example, in some cases, medical follow-ups are necessary. If permanent hearing loss occurs, a professional can help to determine whether it is related to noise on the job.
The audiometric results can be used on an individual basis to teach workers about their own hearing health status. Also, the whole audiometric database can be analysed to identify trends and develop appropriate intervention plans. The results of the hearing checks should trigger follow-up actions.
Scheduling the tests is somewhat dependent on the method chosen for delivering them. For example, testing can be spread throughout the year or done within the same week or month every year. Some considerations for scheduling can include; the time or season of the year, the start and end times of the work shift, and the availability of workers to be away from job tasks. Employees who need a baseline test should avoid workplace noise exposure for 14 hours, or wear hearing protection prior to the test.
Conducting hearing checks also gives other opportunities to interact with workers. Extra training can be provided and the condition and fit of the hearing protection can be checked.
The following is a brief outline of audiometric testing. Specific requirements may vary from one EU member country to another, always consult you national regulation for further advice.
Who needs an audiometric test?
Typically, all employees who are exposed at or above the continuous noise Upper Exposure Action Value LEPd,8h = 85 dB(A) should be included in an audiometric monitoring program.
Who can perform audiometric tests?
Testing can be completed by a competent person such as an audiologist, occupational health nurse, or a medical physician.
Typically, baseline measurements are made when a new employee is hired, when there is change in noise measurements or new equipment procurement. Check your national regulation for more detailed advice, including frequency of testing.
Typically, retests are carried out annually when a worker shows a change in hearing threshold when compared to the baseline. Refer to your national regulation for further advice.
Tests are carried out in an audiometric booth/room which meets specified criteria. Check with an audiologist, occupational health nurse and other competent authorities.
Answers to common questions
Employee daily or weekly noise exposures reaches 85 dB(A) for continuous noise
When the worker noise exposure exceeds the Upper Exposure Action Value and preventative audiometric testing be made available for those who are exposed to noise levels above the Lower Exposure Action Value.
Typically once a year, but check with your national regulation for more information.
Yes, but only if hearing protection is worn during the noise exposure.
Yes, as long as they are competent enough to carry out the measurements, interpret the data, and that there is no cost to the employee by doing so. It is the employer’s responsibility to appoint a suitable vendor.
Yes, however the hearing test must be done without the hearing aid. If necessary, the worker could be tested by an audiologist.
Yes, however sometimes tinnitus (ringing in the ears) can make it more difficult to obtain valid thresholds. If the results are inconsistent, the worker may be having trouble distinguishing the test tone from the ringing in his ears. One option is to refer the worker to an audiologist to obtain a valid test.
One option is to use an interpreter to explain the purpose of the test and instructions. Some audiometers have an additional feature to instruct the worker through the earphones, in the preferred language.
A visual inspection of the ear canal can give helpful information about the health of the ear and whether or not a test should be conducted.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This information is based on selected current national requirements. Other country or local requirements may be different. Always consult User Instructions and follow national regulations. This website contains an overview of general information and should not be relied upon to make specific decisions. Reading this information does not certify proficiency in safety and health. Information is current as of the date of publication, and requirements can change in the future. This information should not be relied upon in isolation, as the content is often accompanied by additional and/or clarifying information. All applicable national laws and regulations must be followed.
Contact your local 3M office for further information.